Which stadium would host USMNT's potential World Cup playoff?
Thanks to Bobby Wood’s late equalizer against Honduras, the United States men’s national team still has a fair chance of finishing third in the CONCACAF's final round of World Cup qualifying. Bruce Arena’s team can control what happens.
Then again, the slightest toe-stub could prove fatal to World Cup hopes. Or, it could beat the United States down into fourth place, which means a November home-and-away series against either Syria or Australia for a World Cup berth.
That possibility of a last-chance play-in series isn’t so far-fetched. So it brings up a fascinating question: Where would the United States host the match?
Yes, we should probably start talking about this. If it comes to this, which U.S. venue location provides the very best opportunity for this ridiculously tense two-match set?
Different opponents present different options
First and foremost, let’s hope the U.S. Soccer federation doesn’t consider short-term financial gain even for a nanosecond. Specifically, let’s hope they eliminate most of the big (read: NFL) stadiums for this one, declining the cash-grab lure of more $100-plus seats or whatever they intend to charge for such a meaningful, high-profile contest. This is a no-nonsense occasion that calls for a soccer stadium – not some ginormous American football stadium dressed up as a soccer ground.
And absolutely, most certainly, not a stadium that would require temporary grass field inlay. (Note to U.S. Soccer: fire anyone who even dares to drop such a notion on the table for consideration.)
So, we’re sorry, Seattle. We love you and your soccer spirit, but this one just isn’t going to work out. Same for Portland.
Beyond something that is (hopefully) so obvious, the first consideration would be: Which nation is the United States facing? Because it could matter a bunch in the choice of venues.
The window for matches is Nov. 6-14, with CONCACAF getting the opening contest. Even that early in the cold-weather season, conditions can get dicey in plenty of places across our big land.
If Australia is the opponent, U.S. Soccer would be smart to avoid any location where things could get wet or cold, which eliminates a lot of the U.S. map. The Socceroos still like their long ball, which works in conditions good or bad. The thing is, against a more technical team – we can argue about whether the United States is more technically skilled than Australia, but let’s stay on point here – the Aussies would likely prefer imperfect conditions due to their comfort with the old-school approach.
So that might rule out places like Kansas City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago. That’s especially too bad in the case of Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park, a great facility with teeming atmosphere and, most importantly, where the men’s national team is 4-0-1.
In that case, you’re mostly looking at facilities in Florida and California. Even the stadiums in Texas would be risky; weather can be absolutely brilliant in November, but it can occasionally be wet and cold, too.
So … maybe Orlando? That would depend, of course, on the happenings in October in the must-win against Panama. If the result goes bad, leaving the United States with a win-and-need-help scenario a few days later at Trinidad & Tobago, the federation would be wise not to return so quickly to a place with bad memories and bad mojo.
If things work out OK in Orlando but the United States still somehow falls into fourth place – not likely, but possible – then Orlando would be a great choice. Orlando City Stadium is one of the larger pro soccer facilities (25,500 capacity) and the atmosphere is already among Major League Soccer’s best. And while it’s historically unlikely to return to the same stadium so soon, it isn't out of the question.
If Syria is the opponent
The conversation changes if Syria is the opposition; much of that country experiences long, hot summers and mild winters. So U.S. Soccer would be more likely to give Syria the old “El Tri treatment.” That is, attempt to goose the level of discomfort by bringing them to a colder place (then send them a case of orange practice balls).
Now, your choices include places such as Columbus (though, given the last match there against Mexico, maybe not); Washington, D.C.; Commerce City, Colorado (of Snowclasico fame); Avaya Stadium (where the U.S. trounced Honduras earlier this year); and maybe Chicago’s Toyota Park. The StubHub Center (just outside Los Angeles) might get serious consideration.
Travel is one other factor for consideration, although the merit of this one is up for debate. Let’s say the two matches are against Australia. Well, you reduce travel time from the United States to Australia by at least four hours by traveling from the West coast instead of the East Coast. A game on the East Coast in order to ease travel on European players would help both the U.S. and Australia, so that one might be a wash.
As one U.S. Soccer official contacted Thursday said, most of the focus right now is on not making any of this an issue. Finishing third is the goal. And yet, U.S. Soccer would be wise to get a Plan B going now. Because if it comes to this, it’s a choice officials absolutely, positively cannot get wrong.